Poet, prophet, miner of truth, August Wilson’s impact on American drama will reverberate for many years to come. Wilson is best known for his “Pittsburgh Cycle” which consists of ten plays, one for each decade of the 20th Century chronicling the lives of African Americans. His work, while dealing with the specifics of everyday life opens up these experiences and offers them as art to the rest of the world. One of Wilson’s best, and best known plays, FENCES is the current offering by the African American Repertory Theatre of Virginia and is being presented at Pine Camp.
On the surface it is the story of Troy Maxon, a garbageman beaten by life, a former star in the Negro Baseball Leagues, a home run hitter who was too old to be a part of the major leagues after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. It is the universal story of a man trying to do right for his family, to take care of his wife, to connect with his children, and to stay on the straight and narrow and not fall prey to the devil on his shoulder that wants him to seek excitement and ruin his life.
In actor J. Ron Fleming’s hands, Maxon is charismatic and likeable although not as physically imposing as a former home run slugger might be imagined. Fleming digs deep to mine Maxon’s pain and to vent his frustrations and his performance is vital and alive.
Delvin Young is his best friend Bono, his sidekick and audience and occasional conscience. I was impressed by Young’s understated approach which in turn made Fleming’s interpretation that much more flamboyant.
As Maxon’s wife, Rochelle Turnage provides the bedrock for the play. Her love and understanding offer the very foundation for all of the other characters to build upon. While her role seems underutilized during the first act, her approach in the second act provides much of the fireworks and Turnage gives a terrific performance.
In supporting roles, Justin Delaney offers a solid performance of son Corey, a boy on the threshold of becoming a man. Corey sees sports, specifically football as his way of bettering himself by earning a scholarship to college, while his father wants him to learn a trade instead. Also offering a good performance as Gabriel Maxon is Toney Cobb. Gabriel may have the ability to see into the other world and he heralds things to come.
The technical side is well done, especially Geno Brantley’s set – which is not easy to do with Pine Camp’s limitations, and Maura Lynch Cravey’s costumes. Cravey’s clothes subtly reinforce the time period and go a long way to set the mood.
Director dl Hopkins has gone a long ways to create a tight ensemble of actors and designers who have in turn created a powerful and touching production. FENCES is the kind of play that should have a longer run in order to have the time to find its audience, but unfortunately only has a short time to be seen. Put this one into your must see pile and don’t hesitate or like one of Troy Maxon’s home runs, it will be gone.